Is It Dangerous to Use Expired Toiletries and Skin Care Products?

Using expired toiletries isn’t simply ineffective, it can cause you to break out and really irritate your skin. However, accidents do happen. We’ve all been there, opening up a jar only to discover our favorite moisturizer has separated, dried out, gone bad, or even worse, smells fowl. How long are products supposed to last anyway? And how do you prevent this from happening in the first place?

Take care of your stuff


A man using lotion |

While everything expires at some point, there are ways of making your skin care products stay fresher, last longer, and most importantly, retain their effectiveness. If you have a choice, always buy a product with a pump. Pumps are a physical barrier to bacterial growth (yuck!) and make it much easier to dispense the proper amount of whatever you are using, from lotions to serums.

If a jar is your only option, make sure you wash your hands before you stick them in. Jars breed bacteria like a fifth grade science fair.

Contrary to what you have probably been doing for your entire life, you aren’t supposed to store your products in the bathroom. Grooming products should be ideally stored in a cool, dark, dry place, so pretty much anywhere but your bathroom. That being said, you are probably going to store them there anyway, so make sure your caps are on tightly and put your bottles, jar, and tubes, away in a medicine cabinet or drawer, as opposed to just leaving them out on the sink or on a shelf.

Keep in mind

Glob of lotion in hands

Glob of lotion in hands |

If a product you use changes texture, separates, dries out, changes consistency, or suddenly has an odor it didn’t have before, I hate to break it to you, but it has gone bad. If it is a recent purchase, you should return it. But do not under any circumstances use it.

It’s also important to know that natural products or those with water listed as the first ingredient, tend to have a shorter shelf life than regular products do.

The lowdown on expiration dates

Applying eye cream

Applying eye cream |

Many products have expiration dates, so be sure to look for them while you are already at the store — if possible, just in the same way you do at the supermarket. If there isn’t an official expiration date, look for a Period After Opening (PAO) date. PAO dates are often listed right near those little illustrations of jars on the packing.

Here are some guidelines, but when in doubt, always throw it out.

Less than six months

young man applying cream on his face

Man applying facial moisturizer |

Sponges and loofas should not be used for more than seven weeks maximum. Ideally, you should replace it every three weeks.

Acne creams should only be used for three months after opening.

Skin care products with retinol, glycolic acid, or vitamin C (probably anything labeled “anti-aging”) should to be tossed after six months. So don’t scrimp to make your lotion last longer, it’s going to go bad anyway.

One year: An opened lip balm should be thrown out after one year because those things are the gate to Bacteria City. This also applies to teeth whitening strips (so stop procrastinating and use them already!).

Sunscreen, moisturizer, and eye cream are also done after 365 days. Sunscreen should have an expiration date, but if you can’t find it, don’t use it.

Two years: Shampoo (although if you don’t open it, feel free to stretch this date a little), conditioner, styling products, shaving cream, toothpaste, deodorant, and cologne need to be used in under two years.

Three years: Mouthwash, bar soap, and body wash can last for three whole years, but hopefully you used them up way sooner than that.